When AOL CEO Tim Armstrong explained to his employers this week why he was undercutting their 401(k) plans, he used the example of two "distressed babies" whose care he says cost the company millions. Today, a mother of one of those babies has spoken out.
Deanna Fei — an acclaimed author, by the way — has published an published an essay at Slate where she reveals herself as one of those scapegoats. Her husband works at AOL, and in October of 2012 she went into labor four months early.
I was home alone with our 1-year-old son and barely able to comprehend that I could be in labor. By the time I arrived at the hospital, my husband a few minutes behind, I was fully dilated and my baby's heartbeat was slowing. Within 20 minutes, my daughter was delivered via emergency cesarean, resuscitated, and placed in the neonatal intensive care unit.
She weighed 1 pound, 9 ounces. Her skin was reddish-purple, bloody and bruised all over. One doctor, visibly shaken, described it as "gelatinous." I couldn't hold my daughter or nurse her or hear her cries, which were silenced by the ventilator. Without it, she couldn't breathe.
That's the child that AOL — whose CEO is paid $12 million annually to routinely make an ass of himself on conference calls — was paying to keep alive. It was a trying struggle from that point on, so much so that Fei admits to wishing at times that her daughter would pass away peacefully before her and her husband became attached.
For longer than I can bear to remember, we were too terrified to name her, to know her, to love her. In my lowest moments—when she suffered a brain hemorrhage, when her right lung collapsed, when she stopped breathing altogether one morning—I found myself wishing that I could simply mourn her loss and go home to take care of my strapping, exuberant, fat-cheeked son.
The girl is now healthy, but Fei says that Armstrong's "distressed babies" claim brought her back to the time when she thought her daughter was going to die.
At home with our daughter, I found myself again unable to look at her without recalling her clinging to life support. Since her arrival, I've rarely been free from some form of torment over her premature birth. The months of pumping breast milk for a baby who might not live to drink it. The anxieties about every milestone: Will she smile? Will she lift her head? Will she crawl, talk, sing? The torturous thoughts of what I might have done wrong during my brief pregnancy, how I might have failed her as her mother.
All of which made the implication from Armstrong that the saving of her life was an extravagant option, an oversize burden on the company bottom line, feel like a cruel violation, no less brutal for the ludicrousness of his contention.